There’s a Memorial to Fallen Astronauts on the Moon

On August 2, 1971, during the third EVA (Extravehicular activity) of Apollo 15 Notes 1 mission, commander David Scott drove the rover away from Lunar Module, where the television camera could be used to observe the lunar liftoff. Then he left a small aluminum statuette called “Fallen Astronaut” next to the rover, which commemorates those astronauts and cosmonauts who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. Scott also left a plaque bearing the names of 14 known American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts deceased by that time, along with the statuette. The names of Astronauts and cosmonauts were inscribed in alphabetical order on the plaque.

The “fallen astronaut” statuette was created by the Belgian sculptor, painter, and printmaker Paul Van Hoeydonck. It is an 8.5-centimeter (3.3 in) aluminum sculpture, a small stylized figure, meant to depict an astronaut in a spacesuit. Before the mission, commander David Scott met Van Hoeydonck at a dinner party. It was there agreed that Van Hoeydonck would create a small statuette for Scott to place on the Moon. Scott’s purpose was to commemorate those astronauts and cosmonauts who had lost their lives in the furtherance of space exploration. He also designed and separately made a plaque listing fourteen American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts’ names who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. Van Hoeydonck was given a set of design specifications: the sculpture was to be lightweight but sturdy, capable of withstanding the temperature extremes of the Moon; it could not be identifiably male or female, nor of any identifiable ethnic group. According to Scott, it was agreed Van Hoeydonck’s name would not be made public, to avoid the commercial exploitation of the US government’s space program. Scott kept the agreement secret from NASA management prior to the mission, smuggling the statue aboard his spacecraft.Notes 2

Memorial to Fallen Astronauts on the Moon
 A close-up view of a commemorative plaque left on the moon at the Hadley-Apennine landing site in memory of 14 NASA astronauts and USSR cosmonauts, now deceased. Their names are inscribed in alphabetical order on the plaque. The plaque was stuck in the lunar soil by astronauts David R. Scott, commander, and James B. Irwin, lunar module pilot, during their Apollo 15 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA). This is a cropped and resized image. You can see the original image on NASA.gov.

14 Fallen Astronauts

The names on the plaque are Charles A. Bassett II, Pavel I. Belyayev, Roger B. Chaffee, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Theodore C. Freeman, Yuri A. Gagarin, Edward G. Givens Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, Vladimir Komarov, Viktor Patsayev, Elliot M. See Jr., Vladislav Volkov, Edward H. White II, and Clifton C. Williams Jr.

Theodore Freeman

Theodore Cordy “Ted” Freeman was an American aeronautical engineer, U.S. Air Force officer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. He was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, on February 18, 1930S. elected in the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963, he was killed a year later in the crash of a T-38 jet on October 31, 1964, marking the first fatality among the NASA Astronaut Corps.

Gemini 9 Astronauts

Charles Arthur “Charlie” Bassett II (December 30, 1931 – February 28, 1966), and his his crewmate Elliot McKay See Jr. (July 23, 1927 – February 28, 1966) were selected as NASA astronauts and assigned to Gemini 9, a 1966 manned spaceflight in NASA’s Gemini program. But they died in an airplane crash during training for their first spaceflight.

Apollo 1: The Fatal Fire

Apollo 1 Astronauts
 Apollo 1 Astronauts (left to right) Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, pose in front of Launch Complex 34 which is housing their Saturn 1 launch vehicle. The astronauts died ten days later in a fire on the launch pad. Image: Wikipedia

51 years ago today, Roger B. Chaffee (b. February 15, 1935), Virgil I. Grissom (b. April 3, 1926) and Edward H. White II (b. November 14, 1930) died on January 27, 1967, when a flash fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a launch rehearsal test. The three men inside perished despite the best efforts of the ground crew. It would take more than 18 months, and extensive redesigns, before NASA sent more men into space. The Apollo program changed forever after the incident. The improvements in astronaut safety allowed the agency to complete the rest of the program with no further fatalities. The agency also met the United States president John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon in 1969, during Apollo 11.

Vladimir Komarov

Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov (16 March 1927- 24 April 1967) was the first cosmonaut to fly in space twice, but unfortunately, during his second flight, Soyuz 1, Komarov was killed when the descent module crashed into the ground due to a parachute failure. This was the first in-flight fatality in the history of spaceflight.

In October 1964, Komarov commanded Voskhod 1, the first spaceflight to carry more than one crew member.

Edward Givens

Edward Galen “Ed” Givens Jr. (January 5, 1930 – June 6, 1967), (Maj, USAF), was a United States Air Force officer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. Selected by NASA in 1966 as a member of the fifth astronaut group, he was killed in an automobile accident before being assigned to a prime or backup spaceflight crew.

Clifton Williams

Clifton Curtis “C.C.” Williams Jr. (September 26, 1932 – October 5, 1967), (Major, USMC), was an American naval aviator, test pilot, mechanical engineer, Major in the United States Marine Corps, and NASA astronaut, who was killed in a plane crash; he had never been to space. The crash was caused by a mechanical failure in a NASA T-38 jet trainer, which he was piloting to visit his parents in Mobile, Alabama. Although he was never on a spaceflight, he served as backup pilot for the mission Gemini 10, which took place in July 1966.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin on an Italian Stamp (2011)
 A 2011 Italian postage stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight.

Probably the most famous name on the list, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Russian pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. After being the first human in the space, Gagarin became an international celebrity and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honor. Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission, which ended in a fatal crash: on 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Base, he and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died in a MiG-15UTI crash near the town of Kirzhach. The bodies of Gagarin and Seryogin were cremated and the ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square in Moscow.

Pavel Belyaev

Pavel Ivanovich Belyayev (26 June 1925 – 10 January 1970), was the first commander of the cosmonaut corps and the cosmonaut who commanded the historic Voskhod 2 mission which saw the first man walk in space in 1965. He actually didn’t die in a space exploration related accident: according to Wikipedia, Belyayev died five years after the Voskhod 2 mission in 1970 from peritonitis that resulted from an operation on a stomach ulcer.

Soyuz 11 Cosmonauts

In those who have died in the pursuit of spaceflight, only the crew of Soyuz 11 was exposed to the environment above the Kármán line, which lies at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft) above the Earth’s sea level, and commonly represents the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. So technically, even to date, only three people have died in space: Georgiy Timofeyevich Dobrovolsky (b. June 1, 1928), Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev (b. 19 June 1933) and Vladislav Nikolayevich Volkov (November 23, 1935).

Soyuz 11 was the only manned mission to board the world’s first space station, Salyut 1 (Soyuz 10 had soft-docked but had not been able to enter due to latching problems). The mission arrived at the space station on 7 June 1971 and departed on 30 June. The mission ended in disaster when the crew capsule depressurized during preparations for re-entry, killing the three-man crew.

After the disaster, there were changes made to the valves in the Soyuz descent module to make them safer, and it’s now a mission rule that cosmonauts and astronauts must wear their proper spacesuits during descent as an added protection against decompression. Not a single cosmonaut or astronaut has lost their lives because of decompression since 1971.

Equatorial Guinea stamp commemorating Soyuz 11 disaster
 An Equatorial Guinea stamp commemorating those cosmonauts who had lost their lives in the Soyuz 11 spacecraft.

Here is a great video about the unfortunate Soyuz 11 crew, created by Amy Shira Teitel, the Canadian-American author, popular science writer, spaceflight historian, YouTuber, and podcaster, best known for writing Breaking the Chains of Gravity and her YouTube channel, Vintage Space.

More people have died in the pursuit of spaceflight, but only the crew of Soyuz 11 was exposed to the environment above the Karman Line. The Kármán line, or Karman line, lies at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft) above Earth’s sea level and commonly represents the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

Notes

  1. Apollo 15 was the ninth manned mission in the United States’ Apollo program, the fourth to land on the Moon, and the eighth successful manned mission. It was launched on July 26, 1971 and landed on August 7, 1971. Total mission duration was 12 days, 7 hours, 11 minutes, 53 seconds with a total of 39 minutes and 7 seconds of EVA (Extravehicular activity).
  2. Van Hoeydonck, the sculptor of the “Fallen Astronaut” gives a different account of the agreement: according to an interview in Belgian newspaper Le Soir, the statue was supposed to be a representation of all mankind, not only fallen astronauts or cosmonauts. He claimed he did not know the statue would be used as a memorial for the fallen space-goers, and the name given to the work was neither chosen nor approved by him; he had intended the figure to be left standing upright. He also denies it was agreed he would remain anonymous.

Sources

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